Remembering Delio Onnis: Ligue 1’s most deadly forward

Think of a prolific Monaco striker of Argentinian heritage and chances are David Trezeguet is the player who comes to mind. The French international was the son of a former Argentinian defender who spent part of his career in France and he enjoyed five successful seasons in the principality between 1995 and 2000.

The 62 career goals David Trezeguet scored for Monaco was a paltry total, however, when compared to the figures of another, significantly less famous, striker of Argentinian origin who played with huge distinction for Monaco and other Ligue 1 sides during the 1970s and the 1980s. That forward was called Delio Onnis and no other player has scored more goals in French League history, or likely ever will.

Source: Alchetron

Like David Trezeguet, Delio Onnis was a dual nationality player. Born in Italy but brought up in Argentina, ‘El Tano’ (the Italian, as he was nicknamed) started his career with Almagro before a move to top division side Gimnasia La Plata followed at the age of 20. The goals flowed just as they would flow throughout his career and his exploits took Gimnasia to an unlikely third-placed league finish in 1970.

Across the Atlantic a famous old French name from the past had ambitions to restore former glories and saw in Delio Onnis a striker who could help them achieve this. Stade de Reims had been in decline for the entirety of the 1960s and had just returned to Ligue 1 thanks to an expansion of the division to 20 teams. Delio Onnis was duly signed and his 39 goals in 65 games over the next two seasons kept Reims out of relegation danger.

Source: Alchetron

Monaco swooped to sign this goalscoring phenomenon in 1973 and were rewarded over the next seven seasons with the sort of consistent scoring returns only Gerd Müller had been delivering in the recent past. Delio Onnis appeared wholly impervious to injuries or significant loss of form and typically delivered 25-30 goals every season – his poorest return at Monaco was 21 goals.

The rapidly shifting circumstances around him at Monaco seemed to have no effect on the reliability of his output. His club were relegated in 1977, promoted in 1978 and crowned French champions on their debut season back in the top flight in 1979. Delio Onnis’s goal totals during these yo-yo years? 29, 30 and 29 – the epitome of consistency.

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A contract dispute brought his time at Monaco to an end in 1980 after his goals had taken the club to a Coupe de France victory. With talk of a transfer to Paris St.Germain, Delio Onnis surprised the French game by instead signing on with Tours, a small club that had just earned a first-ever promotion to Ligue 1.

The drop in standard and change in environment had no detrimental effect on the striker and his goal scoring – 24 of them in his first season rising to 29 in his second and both times named league top scorer – playing as part of a rewarding partnership with fellow Argentinian Omar da Fonseca.

It was during his third and final season at Tours that he suffered the first serious injury of his career. He had already notched 11 goals from just 16 games when his season was ended, but his teammates struggled desperately without him and were duly relegated.

He departed that summer and Toulon became his next and final French destination in 1983. His debut season followed an unerring pattern: 21 goals scored and once again Ligue 1 top scorer. His total dropped to an almost unremarkable 17 the following season and as he entered his final year as a professional he stood just two goals shy of breaking through the 300 league goals mark.

Unfortunately he couldn’t quite get over the finishing line. In sharp decline by this stage and with various injuries and the form of yet another Argentinian marksman, Victor Ramos, keeping him out of the team; Delio Onnis scored just once all season and finished his career on 299 goals. To put that into context, Bernard Lacombe sits second on France’s all-time scorer list some 44 goals behind.

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So why is such a prolific player – five-time French Ligue 1 top scorer in a decade with three different clubs – so little known today? And why did his goalscoring exploits not take him to one of the giants of the European game?

His low-profile can in part be explained by the absence of any international recognition. This wasn’t because he wasn’t considered good enough, simply as he was approaching his peak the Argentina national team preferred to select domestic-based players for what would be their successful 1978 World Cup campaign – Mario Kempes being the single exception.

And for much much of his time in France there was no option to move to Italy with foreign signings being banned until 1980. When the restrictions were lifted Serie A clubs thought, wrongly, that he was past his best. There was always the Spanish market though and perhaps it was Delio Onnis’s utilitarian style that counted against him. You would love his goals but not necessarily love watching him score them as he was very much a no-frills striker: big, strong, fast, good in the air and two-footed,

Back then Argentinian strikers were expected to conform to a more romantic stereotype than Delio Onnis ever could – or want to. With his lackadaisical style and socks rolled down to his ankles, this was a very economical striker who took as few touches of the ball as he could from receiving it to attempting to score; a forward with little regard for aesthetics who would celebrate a goal that cannoned in off his knee or backside just as readily as a well-taken effort.

Perhaps most importantly France was good for Delio Onnis and Delio Onnis was good for France. He professed his love of the country and the culture and his happiness with the career he had there, surely more than enough compensation for not being remembered with the same reverence as some of his 1970s goalscoring counterparts.